Carbon Monoxide Detectors - Saving Lives & Embarrassment


It's every parent's worse nightmare...a knock on the front door late on a cold and snowy winter's night.

An elderly gentleman answers the door, his wife and two young children behind him, as he looks into the police officer's eyes. The blue and red lights of the police vehicle parked in the driveway add a surrealistic quality to the moment as they pulse with the rhythm of a giant heartbeat.

"Excuse me, sir..." the policeman begins politely, "do you know a Laurie ******?"

The older man pales and his wife slips her hand into his, tenderly giving it a squeeze, letting him know that he is not facing this news alone.

"Yes...I'm her father...Laurie's...Dad," he manages to say past the sudden constriction in his throat; his eyes beginning to fill with moisture in anticipation of bad news.

There is a tension filled silence between them. The bereft father stands there as the snow flakes fall and cling to the strands of gray on his head, while the police officer takes a deep breath of the cold air before continuing. The young officer is inexperienced and is already regretting having volunteered for this assignment. His intuition tells him that he is not handling this quite right...and he flounders about, searching for the proper words. He gets as far as, "Sir..."

Bear Feet Slippers

The police officer's explanation is cut short as the small group's attention is drawn to a pair of headlights coming up the road, winding back and forth upon the wooded hill. The beams bounce wildly off the snow-laden boughs of pine trees, jagged granite boulders and finally the mailbox as the vehicle fishtails, barely missing it, before sliding into the driveway and coming to a fortunate stop inches from the police car. Speechless, they watch as the passenger door flies open, ejecting a figure dressed in flannel pajamas, winter coat and furry bear foot slippers.

"Dad!" the figure yells, slipping and sliding through the freshly fallen snow as she makes her way to the gathering by the front door.

The father lifts a hand to his furrowed brow and squints into the blinding headlights. "Laurie?" he says in a disbelieving and yet oddly hopeful voice. "Laurie? Is that you?"

Finally, she reaches them and without hesitation squirms her way in between the amused police officer and her completely baffled father. "Dad!" she cries again in obvious relief, "I'm so glad you are okay!" With that, she wraps her arms around him and hugs him tightly in a manner that suggests she may never let go.

Confused, the father returns the hug and mouths to the police officer in a very audible whisper, "I thought you said she was dead."

Suddenly everyone started talking at once...

"I never said she was dead, sir," the police officer said in an offended tone, "why would I say that when she obviously isn't?"

"Well you asked my husband if he knew her!" Dawn, my father's wife interjected in his defense.

"What was I supposed to think?" my father said, adding to the general mayhem. "If it wasn't that...then what are you doing here knocking on my door in the middle of the night?"

"I'm HERE..." the officer said in complete aggravation, "because SHE called the police department and asked us to come up here to check on you."

As all eyes turned to me, I realized what had happened and all I could think to say was..."Oops."

Realizing that this could take a bit of time to explain and that the explaining was probably best done in an environment that wasn't as cold as the outdoors, Dawn invited us all in for hot chocolate. I peeled off my soggy bear foot slippers and held my cold toes up to the fireplace.

"Well?" asked my father, "We're listening..."

I took a sip of my hot chocolate and began my tale...

The deadly little molecule...

It was a typical weeknight and in the dead of winter, there's not much to do except for curl up on the couch with a warm blanket and watch television. The local station was doing one of its usual specials on the hazards of living in New Hampshire. In some ways, it was a comforting ritual. There was the program that warned everyone about the possibility of chimney fires when the initial frost arrived, followed by the dangers of over-strenuous snow shoveling after the first snow fall. This was then pre-empted by the combustibility of poorly watered Christmas trees once a family had been burned out of their home during the holidays and then after was the program I was currently watching. The dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning...

Every year, hundreds of people are killed by this colorless, odorless gas...especially in the winter and even more so in northern states. It enters the home, leaking from gas powered appliances, oil burning furnaces, fireplaces, wood and coal stoves. In a well insulated home, all it takes is for a vent to be accidentally blocked by...oh...drifting snow...for example and it becomes a death trap.

CO Poisoining - Know the Signs

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are easy to dismiss. A headache, tiredness, queasiness and flu-like symptoms, especially in the winter could easily be attributed to a common cold or the latest bug going around the office.

I never worried about carbon monoxide gas in my apartment. The place leaked like a sieve, forcing the radiators to work overtime, disgorging bursts of steam while the pipes clanked loudly. My husband often complained about the noise, but I found it oddly comforting.

My father's house though...that was a different story. He lived with his family in the middle of the woods, twenty miles north in the town of Weare, NH. His appliances were gas and in the winter he used a combination of oil and wood to heat his home. I looked out of the night-darkened window, mesmerized by the snow dancing in the light of the closest streetlamp while I listened to the snicker and hiss as icy pellets hit the glass panes. By morning, there would be a fresh foot or two of snow upon the ground, but due to the capriciousness of the wind, it wouldn't be a uniform depth.

There was a time when the drifting had been so bad that I had been forced to call my neighbor to come and dig me out. My front door had been completely buried and the back door hadn't fared very well either. What if something like that happened to my father's house...what if he never realized that a snow drift was covering a vent and the carbon monoxide continued to build up in his house?

Hadn't he complained about not feeling well recently...a headache or the flu? Perhaps he had only sneezed, but I couldn't be sure. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more worried I grew and finally my conviction that my family was in imminent peril was all consuming. I picked up the phone to call...


"Hello! This is Dawn. We can't come to the phone right now, but if you leave a message we'll get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you for calling and have a nice day." Beep.

Hearing the answering machine was so disconcerting that I almost forgot to leave a message. It wasn't that I'd never gotten their answering machine before...just never on a week night...this late...when they should be home putting their children to bed so they could be up for school the next day. They were always so predictable. Obviously something was amiss.

"Umm...hi, yeah..this is Laurie. Just calling to say me when you get this message. Where are you's a week night! Bye."

Gary saw me standing there in the kitchen with a frown on my face. "Are they okay?" he asked. I shrugged and told him I didn't know...the answering machine had taken my call. Well...perhaps they had stepped out to the store for something. I'd give it a little while and if I hadn't heard back...I'd call again.

I'm not a very patient person at times, this being one of those times. I paced, I fidgeted, I cleaned the kitchen and the entire time my imagination was painting macabre pictures of the phone ringing in their living room while they were sprawled about on various pieces of furniture in a state of eternal unconsciousness.

By 9 o'clock p.m. I figured they had to be home. Having grown up under my father's iron rules, I knew that 9 o'clock was the strict time for bedtime on a school night. Surely they would abide by that and be available to answer my call.

"Hello! This is Dawn. We can't come to the phone right now..."

I hung up before it even reached the beep and started dialing directory assistance.

"Who are you calling now?" Gary asked after seeing my look of determination.

"The police," I answered, "I'm still not getting an answer and now I'm really worried. At the very least they can do a drive by and check it out."

Weare, NH is a very small town. As Dawn was fond of saying, everyone knew everyone else's business...which was not always a good thing. My father occasionally delivered the mail in this mostly rural area and my stepmother wrote a monthly column for the local newspaper. She had a talent for tickling everyone's funny bone. So, although my family had never run afoul of the law, the local police force knew them and was more than happy to take a drive out to check on them. Before hanging up, I made the officer promise to call me as soon as he had word.

A half an hour later, Gary and I were tossing on our coats and heading for the door. "I'm sure they would have called if something was wrong," Gary said as he started the car. I was grimly silent for the forty minute trip, already planning which window I was going to smash in first to let in the fresh air.

Of course, when I saw the red and blue flashing lights outside of my father's house...I knew I was too late...

And well, you know the rest of the story.

New Homes Are At Greater Risk

How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

To my relief my father began to laugh. Dawn shook her head and said, "I's MY fault then. I just thought that perhaps a quiet night at home with the family would be rather I turned off the ringer. I didn't even see that we had a message or I would have called you back."

With all of the questions answered, the police officer stood up and thanked my family for the hot chocolate, retrieved his jacket from the coat rack and began to shrug himself into it.

"I'm so sorry," I said to him, "for all the problems I've caused tonight. I really didn't mean for anything like this to happen."

He smiled, chuckled and then shook his head. "Nah," he said, "I didn't mind at all. It's nice to see a family that really cares about each other for a change." And with that, he walked out into the storm and waved goodbye before getting into his car and leaving.

As Gary and I prepared to leave, I still couldn't shake the vestige of fear that still clung to me. Sure, this had been a happy ending...but it might not have been. It could have all been so very different.

My father can be perceptive when he wants to be and as we said goodbye, he promised me that the next day he would go into Concord and purchase a couple of carbon monoxide detectors. He did...and now if he doesn't answer the phone, I just call the fire department. They don't mind...they're all volunteers anyway.

Dawn got her revenge eventually. I understand that the town of Weare was enjoying a good laugh while reading the next monthly column about her deranged step-daughter. Even better, a lot of her neighbors were inspired to go out and purchase their own carbon monoxide detectors.

But all joking's not a bad idea to have one or two carbon monoxide detectors in your home. They're just as important as a smoke detector and could save your life. I only say this because I worry about you...

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Comments 33 comments

spryte profile image

spryte 8 years ago from Arizona, USA Author

If I ever had to learn how handy a CO monitor is...that would be the way I'd want to find out too, Amanda. I'm glad your friends and their family are okay! Thanks for adding that to this hub. I figure the more people realize that it can happen to them easily, the more likely they will be to make the investment that could save their lives.

Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 8 years ago from UK

Friends of ours and their three young children woke up in the night to hear the shrill sound of their detector going. They hadn't fitted it. It was there when they moved in, and they freely admit that they probably would never have bothered themselves, but it saved their lives that night!

spryte profile image

spryte 8 years ago from Arizona, USA Author

LOL! Good! Wouldn't want anything to happen to you...our resident budding artist type! :)

rcbonay profile image

rcbonay 8 years ago

*RC begins to understand!*

spryte profile image

spryte 8 years ago from Arizona, USA Author

*thwaps RC on the head*

Get a CO monitor instead... :)

rcbonay profile image

rcbonay 8 years ago

Great post. Very important stuff! Keep a window cracked open a tiny bit...less in the fall/winter...more in the spring/summer!

Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 8 years ago from North America

Wow. Good information.

spryte profile image

spryte 8 years ago from Arizona, USA Author

Thanks Patty! Great question. I decided it deserved a well thought I looked some more and found this incredible link:

But the answer is no. You cannot rely on window ventilation to keep you safe. There have been reports of CO poisoning even with what would be considered adequate ventilation. So go out and get a CO detector for you and kitty.

Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 8 years ago from North America

I sleep with the window open, even in the winter. Do you think the cat and I are OK?

Very good Hub by the way - so Thumbs Up!

spryte profile image

spryte 8 years ago from Arizona, USA Author

KT - *waves* I remember Humpty Dumpty magazines and the other one too...what was it called...oh, Highlights! They used to run some great articles for kids. I'm glad you have a carbon monoxide monitor too! I almost included a poll on this hub to find out how many people did, didn't or would now go out and get one...but it was late and I was tired. Thanks for dropping in and leaving a great comment. It's always appreciated!

KT pdx profile image

KT pdx 8 years ago from Vancouver, WA, USA

Once again, a great hub, Spryte! I can just imagine the whole situation! But, seriously, good advice, and well-timed for winter weather. I have a carbon-monoxide detector, and also got one for my mother, after viewing a program on it as well. I also remember a story when I was little in "Humpty Dumpty" magazine (a young children's health magazine) about the dangers of carbon monoxide, and how after I read it I was going around showing it to everyone.

spryte profile image

spryte 8 years ago from Arizona, USA Author

Dottie! What a dear friend you are...and if my father doesn't answer his phone, I'll be sure to send you up there. You'd love Dawn...she is an awesome cook and first-rate she'd make the trip worth your while.

I'm glad you have a carbon monoxide detector too...seriously. Has it ever gone off? Just curious.

Dottie1 profile image

Dottie1 8 years ago from MA, USA

Great story as usual spryte.  I do want to let you know that I already have my carbon monoxide detector so you won't have to worry about me.  I live not that very far away from your family in New Hampshire, if you ever need someone to call in on them, please feel free to give me a jingle.  I think I'll get myself a pair of those bear feet slippers just incase! Thank you.

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 8 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

Damn, why didn't I think of that !!!!

spryte profile image

spryte 8 years ago from Arizona, USA Author

LOL! Misty...well if there was ever an up side to carbon monoxide poisoning...that would have been it. But of course, you might have thought to "feel faint" or something.... :)

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 8 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

The bonus was having half a dozen hunky fireman in my home with me only dressed in a bath robe, siggghhhhh, such a shame I was married :)

spryte profile image

spryte 8 years ago from Arizona, USA Author

Rowan - It was really too bad your landlords were such dweebs. That place could have been really cool. I liked the location...and the set up inside. I didn't worry about CO in Danbury, but I should have...that house was a future money pit for sure.

Misty - Wow! You were very lucky to have had the additonal oil odor because you can't smell carbon monoxide. I hate to think what could have happened and nobody wants to be found dead in the tub anyway. Thanks for sharing that and adding to the seriousness of this hub. I hope others read your comment and realize how easily it can happen. Thank you!!!

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 8 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

Very good hub, and great advice, plus your usual humour injected as always.

Having once had our home completely filled with carbon monoxide gas I know how scary this can be. A neighbour smelt fumes from the boiler, not realising the vents had been blocked and the carbon monoxide had filled our house. He called the fire brigade, who came out whilst I was oblivious in the bath. I remember my Hubby calling to me to say the fire brigade were here, and jokingly I said, 'send them up here'. It turned out the same neighbour who called them had also sealed the outside room where the boiler was kept, and the fumes had no way to escape and instead filtered into our house, along with a terrible smell of oil. The carbon monoxide detectors the brigade used showed huge levels of the stuff, and they told us not to even sleep in the house that night. They also put a massive fan in the doorway t try and blow the carbon monoxide out the property, but an hour later the levels were still intolerable.

In the end we went to the pub for a few hours, then decided to take the chance on sleeping at home with the windows open. We were fine, but it could have very easily been different.

rowanelayna profile image

rowanelayna 8 years ago from York, PA

I remember the carbon monoxide warnings while living in NH. The house we rented was so crappy I never really worried about it though. I mean, this was the same house that leaked everytime it rained because the roof was primarily made of plastic tarps!

spryte profile image

spryte 8 years ago from Arizona, USA Author

Thanks country :) I'm glad you liked it. Unfortunately, while smoke detectors are well-advertised and in some situations mandated by law...carbon monoxide detectors still are not. Hopefully, in the future they will be as much of a requirement as the former. Thanks for dropping in and commenting!

countrywomen profile image

countrywomen 8 years ago from Washington, USA

I liked the twist part when daughter is checking on her parents.... Jokes apart, still this is a hazard but I guess smoke detectors should also be equipped with hazardous gases detectors... Good hub

spryte profile image

spryte 8 years ago from Arizona, USA Author

I had a feeling that there was something more...but I wasn't about to ask in here either. I will admit that I'm curious, but not enough to badger the hell out of you. If you want me to know, you'll tell me...the door to my email is always open.

Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 8 years ago from St. Louis

Don't look for me doing anything creative this time. Just a regular article. The other thing wasn't a big deal, just this is not the place for it (about me, instead of you).

spryte profile image

spryte 8 years ago from Arizona, USA Author

Thanks Christoph...I know I've said it before, but I'll say it again...your opinion is invaluable to me and I do appreciate it.

I'm curious about what you and Shades will end up delivering...both of you are so innovative. If you erased what you had, I have faith that you had very good reasons to do so. :)


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 8 years ago from St. Louis

Very nice, Spryte. It goes down so smooth and easy, like a fine single malt whiskey. (All that talk about snow, fireplaces and fuzzy slippers made me think of that). You're instict was good. I just wrote something, and then I erased it...well, just because. Suffice it to say, your story moved me in a personal way. Very nicely done!

spryte profile image

spryte 8 years ago from Arizona, USA Author

Thanks wannab :) I'm definitely not a technical writer...but I have more tales than Scheherazade.

Gwendy: Good! i wouldn't want to be worrying about you this winter. You know how I get! Thanks :)

gwendymom profile image

gwendymom 8 years ago from Oklahoma

Spryte, another great one, and with valuable information. You have inspired me to get a carbon monoxide detector.

wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 8 years ago from The Land of Tractors

This was a great story and interesting take on the Hubmob.

spryte profile image

spryte 8 years ago from Arizona, USA Author

Hey Aggie :) As my father used to say...I kept life interesting for him. I had a cat that loved those bear foot slippers...literally.

spryte profile image

spryte 8 years ago from Arizona, USA Author

Misha - *blush* Thank you :)

Lissie - Judging by the fact that current houses being built are so heavily insulated gases have no chance of escaping without a vent...I'd be glad to have a drafty house :) I knew it was a big problem just because of where I had lived...but I never realized that it kills over 500 persons a year. And I think that's just a U.S. statistic. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

agvulpes profile image

agvulpes 8 years ago from Australia

Well Laurie putting your fathers shoes on , so to speak I would be absolutely stoked if my daughter (if I had one) did something like that for me!

You can hold your head high, what you did came from the love in your heart for your family. Ya dun good Kid.

Dunno about the furry bear foot slippers though?

Lissie profile image

Lissie 8 years ago from New Zealand

LOL - I'd never heard of it - but then NZ houses are notoriously poorly insulated and un-double glazed so there enough ventaliation.

Misha profile image

Misha 8 years ago from DC Area

Laurie, you are so cute :)

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